A new kind of 'mining' helps grow Cape Breton tourism

If you're a millennial who likes to explore new cultures, Cape Breton tourism marketers are looking for you. Industry leaders say the extensive data they collect tells them who is most likely to visit.

Destination Cape Breton says knowing target markets also helps shape activities, events that attract visitors

Destination Cape Breton says its research can show the numbers of people interested in hiking as well as the trails they want to try. (Scott Cunningham/Coastal Adventures)

A non-traditional kind of "mining' is helping to bring visitors to Cape Breton.

Destination Cape Breton is using data mining to collect information about the kinds of tourists coming to the island and what types of experiences they are seeking. 

CEO Mary Tulle says the information comes from extensive data collected on the agency's web site.

"Every dollar that we spend on marketing we are able to track. The marketing we do is based on what visitors to our web site are looking at and looking for, and what is actually converting [into visits]," she said.

"Based on that, we know how strong the visitation is to the Cabot Trail. We know how strong it is to Celtic Colours, to the Fortress of Louisbourg. We can break the different trail activity down, who's looking at Skyline versus who's looking at Franey (trail)."

Rentals of oTENTik tents at the Cape Breton Highlands National Park grew by 28 per cent in 2017. (Scott Munn/Parks Canada)

Destination Cape also surveyed 1,600 people to ask when they planned to visit, what they wanted to do, where they live and their age, occupation and income.

After their visit, survey respondents are also asked how long they stayed and how much money they spent.

The latest statistics show visitation was up seven per cent in 2017 and 16 per cent in 2016.

The target tourist

Destination Cape Breton is using information collected through data mining to shape future marketing strategies.

Data mining has revealed a number of things about Cape Breton's target market, Tulle says. They are people between 45 and 64 years old with incomes of about $75,000, who want authentic experiences and are cultural explorers, she said.

While most visitors to the island come from Ontario, the data shows there was a "huge surge this year from Quebec," she said. The numbers of RV campers are up and "the millennials [are] one of our fastest growing groups."

Skating and lobster boils

Parks Canada also collects extensive data about its visitors, says Blair Pardy who is superintendent of the Alexander Graham Bell Museum, the Fortress of Louisbourg and the Cape Breton Highlands National Park.

"We can look at the demographic, where the folks were from, age, class distribution and really start to target those markets," he said. 

Just as useful are the numbers showing which events were a success.

Visits to the Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site grew by 48 per cent in 2017, from 93,820 to 139,255 visitors. (Courtesy of Parks Canada)

"We kicked off last year with our now-famous skating party at the Fortress — first time ever," he said. "That increased our visitation for February by 1,200 per cent.

As a result, Parks Canada plans to build a bigger, outdoor rink, he said.

Another popular event is the "learn-to-lobster-boil" event in the Cape Breton Highlands, which is always fully booked and has a waiting list, he said.

However, one of the biggest challenges in the industry continues to be the lack of human resources, Tulle said.

Many workers in the tourism sector are students who return to school in September and that is an obstacle to extending the tourism season. Tulle said the goal is to ensure there are enough properly trained workers to support the industry's growth.

About the Author

Joan Weeks


Joan Weeks has been a reporter with CBC in Sydney for over a decade. Many of her stories are investigative with a focus on government spending and accountability, as well as health and economic issues important to Cape Breton.

with files from Information Morning Cape Breton